Monday, January 30, 2012

The Nerd Competency Model: What We Can Learn?



Spend time surfing the web and you will find this Venn diagram describing the overlapping capabilities of the “not-cool” kids.   

It is fun, but recently, I had a serious conversation about it.


A friend of mine, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics from Harvard, is burning out from teaching.  Looking at the model, she said “I’m not a nerd. I’m not obsessed enough—I don’t want to spend 90 hours a week perfecting technology.”  However, she is smart; she enjoys doing complex math.  She will probably change to a career that requires lot of smarts but less obsession and people skills. 


I was surprised this internet joke provided insights!  But, upon reflection, we can we learn a few things from this model: 

  1. Human performance is based on a mix of capabilities. Intelligence is never enough to be successful! Tech innovators like Mark Zuckerberg are smart, obsessed, and lack social grace.  Change one of these capabilities and you don't get the full package
  2. Sometimes lower or even negative capabilities are important for success.  Consider McClelland and Burnham’s seminal finding that the most successful leaders are concerned with power--relationships and influence.  A corporate leader will only be successful if the concern for power is tempered with inhibition.  Similarly, they found that leaders that are overly concerned with relationships make poor leaders
  3. The competencies underlying performance are not always obvious.  A nuanced understanding of competencies helps.   If you want to develop leadership in general, you can develop a general competency model.  If you want to develop specific types of leaders, you will be more successful if you fully research the model

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